Chris Hixon, the athletic director and wrestling coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, was so dedicated to his students that when coaching vacancies forced him to consider discontinuation of various sports, he stepped to the sideline and coached them himself. At different times, he coached five sports at the school, for zero supplemental pay.
“He did it for free because he wasn’t eligible for extra pay,” said Jeff Morford, an assistant principal. “Cross country, volleyball, wrestling, basketball and track and field. He was there until 9 p.m. most nights. He was all about the kids. He would do anything for them.”
So no one was surprised to hear the accounts of Hixon speeding in a golf cart toward the sound of gunfire Wednesday when a former student walked into the school at dismissal time with an AR-15 rifle and began shooting people in the freshman building. Hixon’s immediate reaction was to protect the students and stop the attack. Hixon was one of 17 victims at the Parkland school gunned down by the 19-year-old shooter.
“We heard he tried to disarm the shooter,” said Dan Jacob, athletic director and wrestling coach at Coral Springs High and a friend of Hixon’s for 20 years. “He always put others ahead of himself. He was the first to help people out. He just loved teaching and coaching kids and watching them grow up. Many tears have been shed; that’s what he meant to everybody. I’m going to try to be more like Chris.”
Hixon, 49, was to be feted at a surprise birthday party next week. He is survived by wife Debbie, the magnet program coordinator at South Broward High, and two sons. Tommy is in the U.S. Marine Corps and Corey is a special-needs young man who was a regular with his father at Eagles sporting events.
Hixon, who grew up as a wrestler in Easton, Pa., was to coach his wrestling team in the district tournament the day after the shooting. It was postponed until Wednesday, the same day his funeral will be held.
“He was trying to move kids out of the way of the shooter and that is 100 percent Chris because he was looking out for them and they adored him for genuinely caring about them,” said Allen Held, wrestling coach at Cypress Bay High who worked with Hixon at South Broward High. He recalled how Hixon would get down on the mat to practice moves with his athletes. “He was a positive coach — not a screamer — who always found the silver lining, even in a loss. We made a $1 bet when we wrestled against Douglas, and he handed me a $1 bill and I made it into a ring which I’ll keep forever to remember what a great human being he was.”
Hixon, named Broward County’s Athletic Director of the Year in 2017, served in the Navy in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
“It is a shame that he fought in Iraq and comes back and gets killed on his home soil,” Jacob said.
Jesus Luzardo, an injured pitcher when Douglas won the 2016 state and national championships and now playing for the Oakland A’s organization, has launched a Chris Hixon Student Athlete Scholarship Fund.
“Chris was doing what he loved in the place he loved when he went down,” Morford said. “He was as good a man as they come. Our hearts are broken.”